May 10th, 2016: Winston Reid secures the 3-2 win over Manchester United.
West Ham fans’ expectations – May 2016:
• Having picked up the club-record 62 points during the 2015/16 campaign, the team will finally shake off the reputation of eternal mid-tablers and take a step ahead to replace weakened Southampton as England’s sixth force to be reckoned with.
• A handful of stunning away victories such as 3-0 over Liverpool, 2-1 over Manchester City and 3-2 over Everton will give Hammers’ more than enough confidence in their ability to win otherwise rather unwinnable fixtures in the future.
• Few embarrassing defeats from the past (1-4 at Tottenham, 3-4 to Bournemouth at home, shocking 1-4 at home to Swansea) will be thoroughly analysed and taken care of so they cannot ever happen again (or at least not with four goals conceded just like that).
• The long-anticipated move to a 66.000, luxury Olympic Stadium shall not only answer the demands of a growing West Ham’s fanbase but would also be the best indication of their so-much improved stature on British football circuit.
• Slaven Blilć’s tactical ability will lead him to proper conclusions and subsequently – to signing a brand new right-back, so that Michail Antonio won’t ever be forced to cover for RB slot ever again. Alternatively: Sam Byram will grow up to be an English Lilian Thuram.
• West Ham will finally break the bank and sign a proper goal poacher, ending the long period of disappointments caused by playing washed-up forwards like Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho or Andy Carroll. Alternatively: Carroll will get a blessing from Gods and score 20 EPL goals.
Devastated about my recent injured but I’m still the 15-20 goal man! #COYI
— Andy Carroll (@AndyTCarroll) August 21, 2016
• Following his mercurial 2015/16 debut, Dimitri Payet, now fully fit and injury-free, shall spend the next nine months racing with the likes of Mesut Özil and Christian Eriksen for the crown of an absolute top Premier League creator.
• Hammers will learn from their continental defeat in 2015 and will come back with a smooth qualification for Europa League’s group stage and then – with a safe spot in the Round of 32; possibly even in the Round of 16, assuming the knock-out stage draw is kind to them.
• The team will fight for all three points in all circumstances. There will be no more stupid and frustrating drawing streaks like the one it had in December (5 draws in a row) and in April (4 draws, having to chase the score while being 0-1 down in three of those games).
• Luck will be more often on Hammers’ side. This particularly applies to the injury woes such as the one WHUFC went through in December 2015, when Sakho, Lanzini, Moses and Reid have all joined Payet on the sidelines, severely weakening the squad.
September 10th, 2016: Odion Ighalo celebrates first of four Watford’s goals.
West Ham fans’ reality – September 2016:
• After four Premier League matchdays, the team lies at 17th place, just above the relegation zone. Only Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke have picked up less points that Hammers so far – and difficult matches against Chelsea and Man City are not an excuse here.
• In the aforementioned clashes with The Blues and The Citizens, Bilić’s team was simply outplayed and deservedly lost both of those games. The trip to Etihad was particularly painful: Nolito, Sterling and De Bruyne have literally annihilated West Ham there.
• For the fourth time in the span of just thirteen months, the team has conceded four league goals on their home soil. To make it even worse – this time, it happened against Watford, the team known for an unimpressive attacking record. And it was a turnaround from a 2-0 lead…
• The Olympic Stadium has turned out to be a joke of a football ground. Not only the stands have moved away from the pitch so far that the games have become unwatchable – due to delays, some parts of the freshly-opened ground remain unfinished to this day!
Paolo Di Canio on the London Stadium: “It’s like going to the theatre. You don’t feel the passion anymore.” pic.twitter.com/B4ytUvvOYL
— West Ham News (@WHUFC_News) September 12, 2016
• Despite an abysmal defensive performance against Manchester City and couple more, ineffective games as a right-back, Michail Antonio, the newly crowned English international is still a RB choice for Bilić. Meanwhile, Sam Byram did not quite develop as expected.
• West Ham had a massive, almost unreal, £43 million bid rejected. They’ve made desperate efforts to sign Lyon’s striker Alexandre Lacazette, but the Frenchman didn’t seem to be interested. Eventually, the club settled for not nearly as reputable Calleri and Zaza.
• Following his impressive starts for France at EURO 2016, Dimitri Payet went on an extended vacation and thus missed a couple of Premier League games. In those three matches without him, Hammers looked like a team of players who forgot how to create chances.
• After losing an away game, West Ham coasted past Slovenian outfit NK Domžale with a 3-0 home victory. But then, their last-year opponents, Astra Giurgiu drew them again in the play-off round – and triumphed for the second time, scraping a 1-0 win in London!
• Well, what can be said here: WHUFC aren’t getting too many boring draws anymore. Out of fourteen games this season (including friendlies), they drew only three. Unfortunately, since the other numbers are: eight defeats and only three wins – that’s nothing to be happy about.
• During the pre-season, in July, Hammers’ talisman, left-back Aaron Cresswell suffered a knee inury (4 months); in August, club’s record signing André Ayew stumbled during the Chelsea game (4 months); the other new signing, Sofiane Feghouli, is still struggling with his hamstring (2 weeks) while Andy Carroll has damaged his knee against Bournemouth (1 month). So, yeah – that’s about enough about Fortune smiling to the fans from Olympic Stadium (not that they did any good to improve their karma recently).
What else is there to add? Oh, right: there were riots in the stands during the Watford game. As Deeney, Ighalo, Capoue and Holebas were piercing WHUFC’s net, a dozen of most hot-headed hooligans had to be ejected from the stadium – making it the third major kibitzing incident from Hammers in the span of just few months (after throwing bottles at Manchester United’s bus and brawls during Astra failed rematch). So much frustration…
It’s obvious that some issues can and should be addressed immediately. For instance: Darren Randolph needs to get some starts ahead of Adrián. The Spanish goalie, largely responsible for a successful 2015/16 season, has not been nearly as efficient as four-five months ago – in various statistical rankings, he lands between 9th and 11th out of 20 first-choice Premier League goalkeepers this season. And even though he’s made as many as 16 saves in just four games: he’s never been a decisive factor the way Fabiański or Foster were for their teams.
Another quick fix: the right-back position. I’ve mentioned it already, but let me repeat: Michail Antonio does not, NOT belong there – and everybody knows that. He’s a goalscorer, a winger, an attacking powerhouse, call him whatever you like: but he’s NOT a RB! Not by a mile. Loan Alan Hutton from Aston Villa, bring Stuart Pearce from his retirement, put a sheep on the pitch, I don’t care: if Antonio starts another game as a defender, the results will potentially be the same as they were in Manchester – aka Total Disarray.
And while we’re at it: let’s keep the likes of Gökhan Töre and Jonathan Calleri as far from the starting XI as possible. Already against Bournemouth, their absolutely dreadful performances have almost kept Hammers from winning the game they otherwise dominated in. The Turk might’ve eventually get an assist – but how many inaccurate crosses has he wasted beforehand? And when the two came out to play against Astra – the disaster was imminent. Who even thought signing those two would be a decent idea?
Fortunately for Bilić and his lads, the next couple of fixtures should be a bit of a relief to them. On Saturday, they are going to The Hawthorns – and if anything, they are at least unlikely to be exposed at the back by West Brom, as Baggies aren’t particularly keen on attacking. Later fixtures, involving Southampton (home), Middlesbrough (home), Crystal Palace (away) and Sunderland (home) aren’t looking too bad either. Will Payet’s return revive the dream? That rabona assist last weeks is begging for a proper follow-up…